St. Clair West's businesses have a warning for King Street

The King Street pilot project is bringing up painful memories for some business owners on St. Clair Avenue West.

Some businesses seeing benefits from controversial streetcar lines, others still struggling

Businesses on St. Clair say they see some worrying similarities between the changes to their street and the King Street pilot project. (John Rieti/CBC)

The King Street pilot project is bringing up painful memories for some business owners on St. Clair Avenue West.

Rose Signorile says her 45-year-old shop, Quality Paint, still hasn't recovered from the city's move to install a dedicated streetcar lane, even though the controversial project was completed back in 2010.

She's warning King Street businesses to brace for the same thing.

"When I saw that on the news, I felt sorry for them," she told CBC Toronto.

Signorile has been following the developments closely since the pilot launched last November, including the mayor's move to make parking free in the area and bring some live events to King's sidewalks. She's not buying it.

"They're never going to get this fixed. They can put clowns, they can put warming stations and all that — it's not going to recover."

Why? Signorile says many businesses still rely on customers arriving by car. If the city makes that difficult — she says the redesigned St. Clair is so bad that her own brother-in-law won't drive to her shop anymore — then those people will stay away.

Cars aren't banned from King Street, but drivers do risk a ticket if they don't follow the new restrictions. (Doug Ives/Canadian Press)

CBC Toronto spoke with several business owners in the St. Clair West area who say they see the similarity between the two projects, both aimed at improving streetcar service.

Of course, there are major differences, too. St. Clair took more than five years to build and cost just over $100 million. King Street, meanwhile, is only expected to cost some $1.5 million, and affects a far shorter stretch of roadway.

Coun. Joe Mihevc, who represents part of the St. Clair strip and also sits on the TTC board, says both projects require some getting used to.

"Change is hard," he said at city hall.

"But at the end of the day, why are we doing this? We're doing this to improve King Street. And that includes the business environment. And I'm convinced that over time the businesses will do better."

Mihevc says businesses are starting to do better on St. Clair as well, with more restaurants and other shops opening up as the area intensifies. Later this winter, a third-party report is set to look into the pros and cons of the street's transit overhaul.

2-hour TTC transfers would help, says salon owner

The TTC, meanwhile, confirmed more people are taking the route.

In May of 2005, some 1,320 took the streetcar east in the morning and 1,060 took it west in the evening. By the winter of 2017, 1,630 went east at rush hour and 1,400 went west after the workday.

Similarly, early data shows the TTC is attracting more customers due to the changes on King.

Ashley Forster's salon, Robert Ashley Hair Design, is celebrating its 30th year on St. Clair, although he admits only loyal customers saved it from closing during the construction. Like Signorelli, Forster's been watching King and wondering whether the city will take more action to help struggling businesses.

He wants to see the return of two-hour transfer windows for the TTC, something St. Clair was enjoying before the arrival of new streetcars on the route. The city plans to do this as part of its budget.

Forster has another idea for cases like this. "I think they should reduce the property taxes," he said, noting businesses pay far more than homeowners.

So far that isn't on the table, and it's unclear whether the savings would be passed down to businesses renting their space.

Some businesses succeeding despite changes

Alli Millar actually opened her shop, Alli's Fresh Baked, during the construction. With all the noise and dust, "oh my goodness it was terrible," she said, Millar has succeeded by using her store to bake but selling her cinnamon buns, cookies and bread at St. Lawrence and other markets.

However, Millar says more people have been coming to her shop recently and she's working hard to cultivate a local following, something she thinks struggling bakeries on King could benefit from, too.

"It seems to me — unless all the buildings are empty — it seems that there must be so many people coming in," she said.

Beau Cappella chairs Hillcrest Village BIA, one of several that represent the area. He says it was tough during the construction, but it's mainly business as normal now at his menswear store, Acappella.

"The ones that made it through are doing much better now," he said, adding there seem to be more concerns the farther west you go on St. Clair.

Cappella says he understands the concerns he's hearing from King, after all: "your rent comes due every month."


John Rieti

Senior producer

John started with CBC News in 2008 as a Peter Gzowski intern in Newfoundland, and holds a master of journalism degree from Toronto Metropolitan University. As a reporter, John has covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. He now leads a CBC Toronto digital team that has won multiple Radio Television Digital News Association awards for overall excellence in online reporting. You can reach him at